Picturesque weather and an annular solar eclipse helped the 51st Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta reach new heights.
The nine-day event attracted a record-setting 968,516 guests from across the world.
“Whether it was a Wednesday or a Sunday — all the different days — we had huge crowds just about every day,” said Sam Parks, the executive director of the Balloon Fiesta. “It was just one of those great events where the weather cooperated. … And it just seemed like everyone wanted to come out and be a part of Balloon Fiesta Park this year.”
The record-setting guest number is an estimate from the Fiesta, which generates the figure based on advance tickets and passes issued to guests, balloon teams, staff and others. Fiesta officials said multipliers are applied in some cases to compensate for return visits to the park.
The number of attendees at this year’s Fiesta far surpasses last year’s number of 828,800. In 2021, the event drew 783,866 guests.
Said Parks: “Some people were talking about 2023 being the ‘Fiesta 50’ hangover where people may not want to come after they’ve come to the biggest balloon party there is. But we found that to actually not be accurate at all. Our gift shop sales were setting records. Everything just seemed to fall in place.”
The number of guests this year, according to data provided by the Balloon Fiesta, also reflects a post-COVID trend for the event, which is in its third year of operations following a canceled event in 2020. The last time the Fiesta reached nearly 1 million attendees was in 2015, when 955,703 made their way to Balloon Fiesta Park.
Longtime vendor Plano Pin Co., which has had a booth at the Fiesta for more than three decades, realized some of its best business yet at this year’s event.
Brit-Lee Smith, the company owner-in-training, said that on the opening Saturday for Fiesta (Oct. 7 this time), there is typically a lull at around 1 p.m. But not this year.
“From that standpoint, it did feel like an increase,” said Smith, whose business this year made a special “Ballooning Bad” pin with a solar eclipse twist. “And the day of the solar eclipse (on Oct. 14) was definitely an increase as well. It was very active.”
Kenneth DeWees, owner of Chile Traditions, a chile-oriented gift shop at 6919 Montgomery NE, also said this year’s Fiesta was a boon for business.
He’s had a concession at the Fiesta for just more than two decades, featuring live chile roasting and handheld foods filled with the pepper such as breakfast burritos, stew and their well-known ribbon fries. He said the stand sold an average of 1,000 burritos on weekends and 300 to 500 during the weekdays.
“The solar eclipse helped a lot — that was a huge thing,” Dewees said. “This year is right up there with last year, if not a little bit better. But it’s real close to last year.”
The increase in guests this year also showed up in hotel traffic.
According to Visit Albuquerque, data compiled from STR Inc. shows the 13-day period surrounding Balloon Fiesta — including the two days before the event and two days after — saw a 2.3% increase in occupancy from the previous year. Ten of the 13 nights recorded in the data also reveal stronger occupancy than in 2022.
Moreover, the strongest night for hotel occupancy came on Friday, Oct. 13 — the day before the solar eclipse — with 96.3% of rooms in the area filled.
Tania Armenta, president and CEO of Visit Albuquerque, said the city has experienced positive momentum in tourism coming out of COVID. She said this year’s event “is really indicative of what has been a really strong couple of years for us in tourism.
“We’ve heard anecdotal information from various areas — Old Town being one that just saw really strong visitation,” she said. “I think … when we think about Balloon Fiesta, it’s not only what happens on the field, it’s what happens throughout this community and, really, in many parts of the state.”
Other numbers from this year’s Fiesta show there were 546 registered balloons — down from 648 last year — and 107 registered special shape balloons, 12 of which made their first appearance at the event.
Additionally, there were 75 remote-controlled balloons, 142 media organizations, 836 registered media representatives and 771,631 views on Balloon Fiesta Live.